Having weathered a challenging period marked by a deep economic crisis, Sri Lanka is now demonstrating positive signs of an economic upturn. Still, amidst limited homefront policy alternatives against an unfavourable global backdrop, a critical question arises: how will Sri Lanka’s external sector cope in the face of these challenges?
Notably, import controls, initially imposed in response to the dearth of foreign exchange liquidity in the domestic market, are being largely eased. The government is actively seeking to forge partnerships with regional giants, aiming to strengthen trade relations through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Nevertheless, in the broader global context, the rise of geopolitical rivalries, slow growth and contracting demand in key markets create multiple uncertainties for Sri Lanka’s external sector recovery.
In 2019, only 6% of tea imported by Thailand was from Sri Lanka. This low percentage can be attributed to the difference in preferences and Thailand’s high tariffs of 90% on imported tea, which act as barriers to Sri Lanka’s tea exports. Additionally, Thailand imposes up to 30% tariffs on nearly 120 product lines of wearing apparel. These high tariffs for products with a comparative advantage are not exclusive to Sri Lanka. Thailand also faces higher tariffs for vehicles, rubber, and light-electronics exports which Thailand exports competitively. This tariff structure hampers the bilateral trade of products with a higher comparative advantage for both countries. Despite these challenges, Sri Lanka and Thailand have expedited the process of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade by threefold to USD 1.5 billion. This article discusses the trade effect of an FTA and a way forward to maximise the gains from an FTA.
The much touted Sri Lanka – Singapore FTA was signed on 23 January 2018, marking a milestone moment in the trade and economic relations between the two islands. This blog analyses the key features of the FTA and the benefits Sri Lanka can reap from the partnership.
With the Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak’s visit to Sri Lanka, there has been a renewed interest in entering into a FTA with Malaysia. If such a FTA comes into fruition, how will it impact Sri Lanka’s trade? Preliminary estimates by IPS suggest that likely gains from bilateral trade liberalization in goods will be limited to few products, but there might be gains from other areas of cooperation, namely in investment flows to Sri Lanka.
When it comes to free trade agreements, Sri Lanka should not lament about the trade deficit or the export basket but move forward with the rest of the world to gain maximum benefits from such FTAs. The India-Sri Lanka FTA has worked in favor of Sri Lanka but more work needs to be done to broaden and deepen it to reap the maximum benefits from it for Sri Lanka in an equitable manner.